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A Christmas Story

It's just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our
Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has
peeked through  the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas. Oh, not the true
meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it. The overspending
... the  frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for
Uncle Harry and  the dusting powder for Grandma. The gifts given in
desperation because you  couldn't think of anything else.
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts,
sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for
Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.  Our son Kevin, who was 12
that year, was wrestling at the junior level at  the school he attended;
and shortly before Christmas, there was a non league  match against a
team sponsored by an inner-city church, mostly black. These  youngsters,
dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only
thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in
their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.
As  the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was
wrestling without  headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect
a wrestler's ears. It  was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not
afford. Well, we ended up  walloping them. We took every weight class.
And as each of their boys got  up from the mat, he swaggered around in
his tatters with
false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat.
Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of them
could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like
this  could take the heart right out of them."
Mike loved kids -- all kids -- and he knew them, having coached little
league football, baseball and lacrosse. That's when the idea for his
present came.  That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store
and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them
anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the
envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and
that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about
Christmas that year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, I
followed the tradition--one year sending a group of mentally handicapped
youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly
brothers whose home  had burned to the ground the week before Christmas,
and on and on.
The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the
last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their
new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted
the envelope  from the tree to reveal its contents.
As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but
the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn't end there. You
see, we  lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas
rolled around, I was  still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the
tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on  the tree,
and in the morning, it was joined by three more.
Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope
on  the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will
expand even  further with our grandchildren standing around the tree
with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their  fathers take down the
envelope. Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit,  will always be with
us.